The Jewish community has always embraced the Fifth Commandment as one of the important values of Judaism. So when a 1985 study conducted by the Jewish Federation revealed that a home for the elderly was sorely needed in Orange County, two women stepped up and spearheaded the capital campaign that was to eventually result in the establishment of the first Jewish home for the elderly. Meryl Schrimmer and Loretta Modelevsky both strongly believed it was imperative to develop a home for the aging in our community.
Moldelevsky’s motivation came from her experience in St. Paul, Minn., which has a small but strong Jewish community. “My mother lived in the Shalom Home, and it was wonderful,” she said. “When we moved to OC, there was very little Jewish. I was very interested in having a Jewish home here.”
Schrimmer was aware of previous failed attempts to create a home for the elderly. “I didn’t want this community need to be shelved again as it had been in the past,” she said. “Knowing that hundreds of seniors from all walks of life would live a quality lifestyle there was an inspiration.”
“Meryl and I rolled up our sleeves and got to work,” said Modelevsky. Using their contacts, hosting dinners and spreading the word, they developed the chapter program, similar to the guilds formed for the music center. Eight chapters were developed, which in turn drew support from the Jewish community. “We called our friends, who in turned called their friends,” said Modelevsky.
Heritage Pointe’s comprehensive healthcare services, on-site synagogue, traditional Judaic programs and strictly kosher kitchen serving three meals a day make this a truly unique environment. Other amenities include a swimming pool, library, putting green, beauty salon and computer room, just to name a few.
Heritage Pointe is more than just “an old folks home.” It is a nonprofit, 200-resident community that provides independent, assisted and memory care services for the elderly. Independent seniors have weekly outings, such as trips to the beach, casino, restaurants, theater and much more.
“This isn’t just a place to live,” said Ellen Weiss, Director of Community Engagement and Philanthropy. “It is a place to thrive.” While Heritage Pointe has always fostered life-long learning, now the residents themselves are participating in that endeavor. “Residents have begun teaching each other and have started to print their own newsletter, ‘The Residents’ Voice,’ about what is happening.”
And it’s about fun as well. Every year the community has big parties including a senior prom, casino night and New Year’s Eve. This year they also held a country western barbeque and a butterfly release.
“Adopt a Gran” is an intergenerational program in which a bar/bat mitzvah is paired with a resident who has similar interests, and they visit for 13 weeks. Many continue to visit for months and in some cases years after the formal completion of the program.
“You can build a place and have the rooms,” said Weiss, “but you need to have people connect. Here folks who have lost friends can build new connections.”
For those residents in need of little to moderate assistance, Heritage Pointe has an experienced staff that includes an on-site Administrator (RN), nurses, medical technicians and caregivers, who provide residents with exceptional care. This community is specifically designed to create a soothing and nurturing atmosphere, minimizing disorientation and enhancing individual successes.
In 2008, The Ruth Feuerstein Residence opened for those needing a specialized level of care. It is an intimate 16-bed facility for residents with memory care issues. This community includes a separate kosher dining room and outdoor and common areas, including a secure garden area, to promote the best quality of life possible for residents.
The upcoming Heritage Pointe 25th Anniversary Gala in November will honor their past founders. Most of the money raised will fund scholarships for those residents who need financial assistance. But it will also mark the beginning of a renaissance. “We will be expanding our lifelong learning, updating the campus and introducing some new programs,” said Weiss.
“We are always seeking volunteers,” said Modelevsky, who has been involved for the last 21 years as Volunteer Coordinator. “I have had the privilege of meeting every volunteer and resident during that time,” she said. “It has been a blessing.” Most of the residents feel the same way!
Florence L Dann, a fourth-year rabbinical student at the Academy for Jewish Religion in L.A., has been a contributing writer to JLife Magazine since 2004. She served as the Vice President of the Jewish Reconstructionist Federation West Coast and currently teaches English as Second Language to adults.